Everything ends. I know this and yet, sometimes it’s so hard to walk away from things I know are over but haven’t given me a satisfactory ending.
This is life. I cling to things lost. I hope to fix the unfixable. I try to explain the unexplainable to myself. I want an ending that makes sense.
I hear my friends do the same and I feel their pain. Everyone deserves a finite and understandable end so that we can grieve and move on.
This sounds like a discussion about relationships. And it kind of is, but mostly what I want to talk about is bad relationships with art.
I feel the pain of unresolved endings most especially for my artist friends and their unfinished projects. I hear so often… “I have this other novel, painting, quilt, carving, this project I can’t wait to work on, but I have this THING I’M DOING THAT I HAVE TO FINISH first.”
Why is it that we feel beholden to everything we start as an artist just because we were in love at the beginning? Look, it’s no different than any relationship. No one benefits from a partner staying after it’s over.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she talks about ideas as if they were living beings of energy floating about the universe, bumping against us, and looking for the right partner. I love the thought of this. It’s as if art is actually the prototype for online dating.
Imagine this: You are looking for THE ONE. And you find an online profile that intrigues you. The two of you have this spark, this one thing in common. You banter in the ether and then you try to make something work in real life. It looks extraordinary for a while. It looks like this is your future and everything you’ve ever wanted.
Then it doesn’t.
Because, sometimes that initial spark isn’t enough.
Maybe it’s not working. Maybe the idea fell out of love with you and checked out. Maybe the idea is a fantastic one, but not really in your wheelhouse. It’s possible that someone else could rock that idea’s world and that’s what this idea deserves. Maybe once you had the idea solidly in your grasp you stopped being interested in it. You want to love it. You want it to work. But for whatever reason, it isn’t working anymore.
It’s over, man. Let it go. Pack your bags. Leave.
I think there is no place for this kind of love affair in art. You only have to look in my drawer of abandoned manuscripts to affirm my belief that art has finite endings. I have 14 published books, but also have 6 manuscripts from the last 20 years which have been abandoned half- and even three-quarters of the way through.
Every project is a love affair, you just have to find the strength to love it as best you can while it’s working and have the honesty to admit when it’s over.
Over is okay. It isn’t a waste. You were lucky to love while you loved. You learned. You lived. And whatever is next will benefit from what you accomplished, even if it was never finished. Because seriously… I’m certain my family takes great comfort in the fact that I haven’t married most of the guys I’ve dated.
Life is too short to write novels you don’t love, to keep adjusting paintings that won’t match your imaginings, or to keep trying to love anything that doesn’t love you back.
What are working on now? What should you be working on? Is the love mutual? That’s all I’m asking you, and for that matter, myself.